Song of the Day: Glen Campbell, “Ghost on the Canvas” (2011)

Glen Campbell, “Ghost on the Canvas” (2010)
From the album Ghost on the Canvas (Surfdog)
Written by: Paul Westerberg

It was Glen Campbell’s romanticism that introduced many, including myself, to a genre they never thought they could love: country music. I was already a fan when, in 2010, I found out about his Alzheimer’s diagnosis, which had been made public by his family who wished to combat the stigma of the disease.

That same year, Campbell embarked on his farewell tour and recorded what was meant to be his final album, Ghost on the Canvas. Many great artists showed up for this recording. Among them, Replacements leader Paul Westerberg, who wrote the beautiful song from which it draws its name.

That’s no surprise, given that Campbell was Westerberg’s hero and one can only imagine what it must feel like to contribute a piece of yourself to the final work of one of your favorite artists.

“Ghost on the Canvas” is aesthetically picturesque and, complete with strings evoking the trademark sound of his golden “Wichita Lineman” period, it is enough to put a lump on anyone’s throat. But it is not just pretty and nostalgic. It treads some really dark territories, with Campbell acting as if he were singing from the afterlife such cryptic, abstract lines as ones about spirits making love in wheat fields and so on. At this moment, he is embodying our repressed fear of mortality and the passing of time.

Of course, many, including those closest to him, expected Campbell to die shortly after the release of the album. He didn’t. In fact, Ghost on the Canvas wasn’t even his final album, which in a way is a shame, as it would have been a perfect farewell.

Campbell’s life would drag for another seven years and he kept on-playing music right up to the end of his life. His final appearance on video finds him widely unaware of his surrounding, brightening up only after he is handed a guitar.

“I know a place between life and death for you and me / Best take hold on the threshold of eternity.”


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